Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Stacks: Comfort Reading


Welcome to the inaugural post of Annotated Bibliophile’s Stacks feature, where I collect books I’ve read and loved into recommendation lists using a system that is less empirical than intuitive and may not make sense to any living being besides myself. 

To commemorate the occasion of this, the first Stacks post, I present to you a collection of comfort books.  These are the books I go to time and again when I’m feeling lost, when I’m sick or can’t fall asleep at night, when I just feel wrong.  With a couple exceptions, they are books in which nothing truly terrible happens and may not be as thought provoking as some of my other favorites, but there’s just something about them that makes me feel better, and that’s worth quite a lot, even if the books didn’t have other merits in spades.

[Since Stacks posts are composed with some sort of organizing theme in mind, books may appear on more than one list, so if this particular list of titles don’t match the theme as you interpret it, don’t write off the books quite yet.] 

Troubling a Star
By Madeline L’Engle
——
After a year in New York City, Vicky Austin feels restless and totally out of place back home in rural Connecticut.  Her time away, especially her friendship with Adam Eddington, has changed her.  When Adam’s great-aunt Serena gives vicky a trip to Antarctica as a birthday present, Vicky can’t believe her luck.  It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and Adam will be working at one of the research stations there.  But the trip is not what Vicky imagined.  As she meets her fellow travelers, it quickly becomes clear that some of them are not what they seem.  And that her trip into adventure is becoming a journey into icy danger.
——
The Rundown:  I read this book when I was eleven.  It has shaped my life and my writing in so many ways I don’t know where to start. I tend to read it most often in the winter—partially because that’s when I first read it and partially because there’s just something about curling up with hot chocolate and Troubling a Star while it snows—but that rule isn’t set in stone.  I don’t know why this is a comfort book for me, it’s not a particularly happy story, but I find it calming all the same.  Perhaps because every time I pick it up I feel the way I did the first time I read it.  Unlike most of my reading material, this isn’t fantasy—there’s no magic here, but it’s magical to me.

Specs
Type: YA Fiction (Arguably science fiction.  Other entries in the Austin series are magical realism/science fiction and all take place in the same universe as L’Engle’s Time Quartet.), final book in a series, but can be read as a stand-alone
Acquisition: Local library, later personal purchase from Borders
Discovery: Found it while browsing the stacks at the local library for A Wind in the Door, the second book in L’Engle’s Time Quartet. 
Current Rank: Book that changed my life.
Number of Reads: Countless.

The Bell at Sealey Head
By Patricia K. Mckillip
——
Sealey Head is a small town on the edge of the ocean, a sleepy place.  The prominent families in town are the Blairs, wealthy merchants, and the Sproules, gentlemen farmers.  It might be possible, just barely, to count the Cauleys, who own the Inn at Sealey Head.  Raven Sproule, who speaks of nothing but horses, is courting Gwyneth Blair.  Gwyneth, who prefers to speak of books, fancies Judd Cauley.  On the outskirts of town is the one truly great house, Aislinn House, where the aged Lady Eglantyne lies dying in spite of everything her doctor, her maid, and her maid’s mother, the eccentric herbalist, can manage to do for her.  All of them—and a few intriguing strangers—have a role to play in an ancient story of magic that will explain why at sunset everyone in Sealey Head hears the ringing of a bell no one can see.  And why sometimes the doors at Aislinn House open not to its own dusty rooms, but to the wild majesty of a castle full of knights and princesses…
——
The Rundown:  This book, like all McKillip’s work, is quietly gorgeous.  The dustcover description simply doesn’t do it justice.  McKillip’s prose is haunting and lyrical.  She builds in paragraphs what others take hundreds of pages to achieve, creating complex, evocative relationships and histories for the residents of Sealey Head so that you feel as if  you stepped through the pages of the novel into a living town.  I fell in love with the characters, particularly Judd, Ridley, Gwyneth, Emma and Ysabeau, and the world of Sealey Head and Aislinn House.  Every time I read it, the story reminds me of something, but I’ve never been able to figure out what.  It’s a bit like literary deja vu.  Regardless, this book always leaves me wishing my own doors would open to elsewhere, starting with Sealey Head. 

Specs
Type: Fantasy
Acquisition: Personal purchase from Borders
Discovery: I’ve been keeping tabs on McKillip’s new releases since a friend lent me the Riddle-Master Trilogy and The Changeling sea in college, prompting me to acquire McKillip’s entire bibliography.
Current Rank: Book I love
Number of Reads: 8

Howl’s Moving Castle
By Diana Wynne Jones
——
Sophie lived in the town of Market Chipping, which was in Ingary, a land in which anything could happen, and often did—especially when the Witch of the Waste got her danger up.  Which was often.  As her younger sisters set out to seek their fortunes, Sophie stayed in her father’s hat shop.  Which proved most unadventurous until the witch of the Waste came in to buy a bonnet, but was not pleased.  Which is why she turned Sophie into an old lady.  Which was spiteful witchery.  Now Sophie must seek her own fortune.  Which means striking a bargain with the lecherous Wizard Howl.  Which means entering his ever-moving castle, taming a blue fire-demon, and meeting the Witch of the Waste head-on.  Which was more than Sophie bargained for…
——
The Rundown:  Diana Wynne Jones has become the author whose books I reach for the most when I need to feel less horrible about the world.  Between Sophie, Howl and Calcifer snarking at each other, Howl being outrageous, Sophie’s posturing and terrible old lady act, the roundabout way they approach the Witch of the Waste, and the way the story sets up fairytale tropes and obliterates them, Howl’s Moving Castle never fails to make life a little better.  At least for the space of its few hundred pages.

Specs
Type: YA Fantasy
Acquisition: Gift from a friend
Discovery: One of my best friends discovered Howl, read it, loved it, and bought it for me.
Current Rank: Book I love
Number of Reads: 14-16 (I don’t know, I stopped counting after the second read)

Conrad’s Fate
By Diana Wynne Jones
——
Someone at Stallery Mansion is changing the world.  At first, only small details, but the changes get bigger and bigger.  It’s up to Conrad, a twelve-year-old with terrible karma who’s just joined the mansion’s staff, to find out who is behind it.  But he’s not the only one snooping around.  His fellow servant-in-training, Christopher Chant, is charming, confident, and from another world, with a mission of his own—rescuing his friend, lost in an alternate Stallery Mansion.  Can they save the day before Conrad’s awful fate catches up with them?
——
The Rundown:  I was not prepared for how much I loved this book.  I’d read and enjoyed the other Chrestomanci books, but they were never my favorites.  Then came Conrad’s Fate and the glorious misadventures of Conrad Tesdinic and a teenaged Christopher Chant (who refuses to refer to Conrad as anything but “Grant”, Conrad’s fake surname).  Conrad is one of the most likable protagonists I have ever had the fortune to read.  His growing friendship with Christopher and their banter is just plain fun.  Sometimes that’s all you need. (Though in my case, it seems to be “much of the time” since I’ve read this book so often I could probably quote it from memory.)

Specs
Type: YA Fantasy, second to last book in a non-linear series, but can be read as a stand-alone
Acquisition: Personal purchase from Borders
Discovery: By the time I found Conrad while browsing the shelves at the bookstore, I’d read Howl and the earlier Chrestomanci books and there was no way I wasn’t going to read it.
Current Rank: Book I love
Number of Reads: At least 20. I’ve read this book so many times it’s a little ridiculous. 

Enchanted Glass
By Diana Wynne Jones
——
Something is rotten in the village of Melstone. Aidan Cain has had the worst week of his life. Creepy, sinister beings want him dead. What's a boy to do? With danger nipping at his heels, Aidan flees to Melstone, a village teeming with magic of its own. There he is taken in by Andrew Hope, the new master of Melstone House, who has some supernatural troubles too. Someone is stealing power from the area—mingling magics—and chaos is swiftly rising. Are Aidan's and Andrew's magical dilemmas connected somehow? And will they be able to unite their powers and unlock the secrets of Melstone before the countryside comes apart at the seams?
——
The Rundown:  I did warn you that Jones is my go-to comfort reading. Enchanted Glass is another book that is just plain fun—it is in fact, far fluffier than Conrad. Andrew and Aidan are both endearing protagonists surrounded by a host of colorful, hilarious, and above all shockingly opinionated supporting characters.  The plot is simple—you won’t find any surprises here—but the characters, dialogue, and often tongue-in-cheek narration, make for an enjoyable and worthwhile read.  Besides, the book takes under an hour to finish.  

Specs
Type: YA Fantasy
Acquisition: Personal purchase from Barnes & Noble
Discovery: Was keeping tabs on new releases from Diana Wynne Jones
Current Rank: Borderline between book I really enjoy and book I love
Number of Reads: 4

House of Many Ways
By Diana Wynne Jones
——
Charmain Baker is in over her head.  Looking after Great-Uncle William’s tiny cottage while he’s ill should have been easy.  But Great-Uncle William is better known as the Royal Wizard Norland, and his house bends space and time.  Its single door leads to any number of places—the bedrooms, the kitchen, the caves under the mountains, the past, and the Royal Mansion, to name just a few.  By opening that door, Charmain has become responsible for not only the house, but for an extremely magical stray dog, a muddled young apprentice wizard, and a box of the king’s most treasured documents.  She has encountered a terrifying beast called a lubbock, irritated a clan of small blue creatures, and wound up smack in the middle of an urgent search.  The king and his daughter are desperate to find the lost, fabled Elfgift—so desperate that they’ve even called in an intimidating sorceress named Sophie to help.  And where Sophie is, can the Wizard Howl and fire demon Calcifer be far behind?  Of course, with that magical family involved, there’s bound to be chaos—and unexpected revelations.  No one will be more surprised than Charmain by what Howl and Sophie discover.
——
The Rundown:  We’ve already established how much I love Howl’s Moving Castle.  I read its first sequel, Castle in the Air, and didn’t enjoy it half as much as the original.  I suppose I could have skipped House of Many Ways out of fear that it would disappoint me, but if I had, I’d have missed Howl masquerading as a small child named Twinkle while driving the long-suffering Sophie and Calcifer round the proverbial bend.  I’d also have missed Norland’s quirky royal family, Charmain growing into caring about others, and the indomitable Waif, the world’s smallest and most utterly shameless magical dog.  None of this should be missed—it should be read over and over, particularly when you need cheering.

Specs
Type: YA Fantasy, second companion book to Howl’s Moving Castle, but can be read as a stand-alone
Acquisition: Personal purchase from Borders
Discovery: Discovered while browsing in the bookstore. Didn’t really need any reason beyond “new Diana Wynne Jones book” to pick it up, but it was a second sequel to Howl so that was an added bonus.
Current Rank: Book I love
Number of Reads: 5

The Truth-Teller’s Tale
By Sharon Shinn
——
Innkeeper’s daughters Adele and Eleda are “mirror twins”—identical twins whose looks are reflections of each other’s—and their special talents are like mirrors too.  Adele is a Safe-Keeper, entrusted with hearing and never revealing others’ secrets; Eleda is a Truth-Teller, one who cannot tell a lie when asked a direct question. The twins are treasured by the residents of Merendon—especially their best friend, Roelynn Karro, whose strict, wealthy father is determined to marry her off to the prince.  When the twins are seventeen, a handsome dancing-master and his apprentice come to stay at the inn, and thus begins a chain of romance, mistaken identity, and some very surprising truths and falsehoods…
——
The Rundown:  I resisted reading this for a little while because I was concerned it might be a tad too preoccupied with romance.  I shouldn’t have resisted.  It has all the quiet brilliance of Shinn’s other work and the plot of a Shakespearean comedy.  Better still, the heart of the story isn’t the twins’ and Roelynn’s developing romances, it’s the relationship between Eleda and Adele, twin sisters who could not be more perfect opposites but will love each other more than anything in the world, no matter who they fall in love with.  There is genuine strife in The Truth-Teller’s Tale, heartbreak, darkness, and moments of hopelessness, but they only add to its emotional depth, and the denouement leaves you smiling.  It’s a beautiful book, one I return to time and again.

Specs
Type: YA Fantasy, second book of a trilogy but can be read as a stand-alone
Acquisition: Personal purchase from used book vendor via Amazon
Discovery: One of my best friends got the ARC from her sister and hounded me to read it until I did.
Current Rank: Book I love
Number of Reads: 6

The Dream-Maker’s Magic
By Sharon Shinn
——
Kellen’s mother has always insisted that her only child was born male, not female—so Kellen has been raised as a boy.  At school, she meets Gryffin, whose mind is as strong as his legs are damaged, and the two become friends and allies.  A few years later, the two get jobs working at a nearby inn.  Then the kingdom loses its Dream-Maker, whose mere presence can make dreams come true.  A new Dream-Maker is discovered, and lives throughout the kingdom are changed.  Kellen and Gryffin are separated just as their friendship is shading into something more.  Will it endure?
——
The Rundown:  Dream-Maker’s Magic, like Truth-Teller’s Tale, is a slim novel that packs an even bigger emotional punch.  Kellen and Gryffin do not lead happy family lives, and this book deals with both physical and psychological domestic abuse.  But they gradually surround themselves with loving people who pull them out of the darkness of their pasts and help them build their own lives, a family stronger than blood.  There are secrets to unravel and obstacles to overcome, but at the heart of the novel is Kellen and Gryffin’s friendship, a friendship that is as profound as the two protagonists’ characterizations. Kellen’s struggle with her identity in particular is drawn beautifully.  Torn between her “male” and “female” selves, Kellan gradually becomes comfortable in either skin, but is most at home when being herself, a combination of the two that endures whatever clothes she might be wearing.  This story resonated more deeply with me than did The Truth-Teller’s Tale, and I cannot seem to stop reading it.

Specs
Type: YA Fantasy, third book of a trilogy but can be read as a stand-alone
Acquisition: Personal purchase from Amazon
Discovery: See note on Truth-Teller’s Tale
Current Rank: Book I love (even more than Truth-Teller’s Tale)
Number of Reads: 10+

Summers at Castle Auburn
By Sharon Shinn
——
She was a girl with a talent for witchcraft and a taste for adventure.  The illegitimate child of a royal lord, she longed for a man who could never be hers.  And she lived for her summers at Castle Auburn.  She is a woman who has grown accustomed to standing alone.  What she once loves, she has lost.  Where she once saw joy, she now sees terrible injustice.  And at the castle where she once lived in peace, she now walks in fear for her life.
——
The Rundown:  Summers at Castle Auburn is a brilliant character study of protagonist and first-person narrator, Corie Halsing.  Though the novel only spans five years of Corie’s life, focusing on her 14th, 17th, and 18th summers, her subtle transformation from a guileless child to a woman grown into herself enough to recognize the injustice that surrounds her and does what she can to end it.  Her emotional journey is realistic, her world full of intrigue and deceit, but also moments of genuine kindness.  Corie’s relationship with her half-sister Elissandra is beautiful, her friendships with Kent, Roderick and the aliora deep, and her antics with Cloate and Shorro hilarious.  Auburn is a world like Alora, the aliora’s home: Once you’ve visited, you cannot bear to leave it for long before you’re drawn back.

Specs
Type: Fantasy
Acquisition: Borrowed from the aforementioned best friend while camping out on her bed sophomore year of college. After the third time I borrowed it, I bought my own copy from Borders.
Discovery: Lauren made me read it. I did not put up much of a fight. Okay, I didn’t fight her at all.
Current Rank: Book I love
Number of Reads: 12+

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
By Douglas Adams
——
Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.
Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker's Guide ("A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have") and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox--the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod's girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years. 
Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? Why do we spend so much time between wearing digital watches? For all the answers stick your thumb to the stars. And don't forget to bring a towel!
——
The Rundown:  The first book that ever made me laugh so hard my stomach hurt.  If you saw the film but never read the book, put the movie completely out of your mind and go read the Hitchhiker’s Guide.  No film or radio adaptation will ever compare to the words on these pages.  If you must listen rather than read, go buy the audiobook with Stephen Fry as the narrator.  Whatever you do, experience Adams’ words undiluted and unabridged.  And remember—Don’t Panic.

Specs
Type: Science Fiction, Comedy/Satire/Defies Classification Because it is Just That Good, first in a series, can be read as a stand-alone (but why would you want to stop there?)
Acquisition: Stole it from my sister, who I believe purchased it from Borders.
Discovery: My sister picked it up to read while we visited our grandma, thought it was funny and read out the first paragraph to me. I stole it, bought the rest of the series, and quote it so much she fears for my sanity and has never, to my knowledge, reread the book.
Current Rank: Book that changed my life
Number of Reads: At least 20

The Wee Free Men
By Terry Pratchett
——
When Tiffany Aching sets out to become a witch, she faces ominous foes and gains unexpected allies. As she confronts the Queen of Fairies and battles an ancient, bodiless evil, she is aided (and most ably abetted) by the six-inch-high, fightin', stealin', drinkin' Wee Free Men!Laugh-out-loud humor and breathtaking action combine in the books that launched the unforgettable adventures of a determined young witch and her tiny but fierce blue friends.
——
The Rundown:  I read this book while I was laid-up on the couch after a car accident and promptly bought the audiobook to help take my mind off the flashbacks when I started driving again.  Terry Pratchett is to fantasy what Douglas Adams is to science fiction. Tiffany Aching is brilliant and you cannot but love the ridiculous antics of the Nac Mac Feegles from the moment that Tiffany hears that first tiny, disembodied voice swearing like a sailor—or worse, like her deceased grandmother whose solution to all sheep-related problems was to cuss at them. 
Specs
Type: YA Fantasy, Comedy, first in a series (within the greater series that is Discworld) but could be read as a stand-alone
Acquisition: Personal purchase from Barnes & Noble
Discovery: Someone told me in passing that the Discworld books were funny and addictive. They were more right than they will ever know.
Current Rank: Book I love
Number of Reads: 4

The Confessions of Georgia Nicolson
(Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging; It’s Okay, I’m Wearing Really Big Knickers/On the Bright Side, I Am Now the Girlfriend of a Sex-God; Knocked Out by My Nunga-Nungas; Dancing in My Nuddy-Pants; …And That’s When it Fell Off in My Hand/Away Laughing on a Fast Camel; Then He Ate My Boy Entrancers; Startled by his Furry Shorts; Luuurve is a Many Trousered Thing; Stop in the Name of Pants; Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me)
By Louise Rennison
——
Her dad's got the mentality of a Teletubby (only not so developed). Her cat, Angus, is trying to eat the poodle next door. And her best friend thinks she looks like an alien -- just because she accidentally shaved off her eyebrows. Ergghhhlack. Still, add a little boy-stalking, teacher-baiting, and full-frontal snogging with a Sex God, and Georgia's year just might turn out to be the most fabbitty fab fab ever!
——
The Rundown:  These books are laugh-until-you-can’t-breathe-and-have-to-excuse-yourself-to-another-room-to-regain-your-composure-before-you-hyperventilate funny. They became one of the first things Lauren (one of my best friends, featured alongside me in the Illustrated Bibliophile comics) and I bonded over in college, giving us our nicknames for each other, hours of audiobook gold for road trips, and a means to annoy the hell out of our housemates while we made each other laugh till we cried at odd hours of the night—just by reading the books aloud. Complete and utter fluff, but I don’t care.  I lurve them, and I am not ashamed.
Specs
Type: YA Fiction, Humor, Series
Acquisition: Stole books 1-4 from my sister, shared books 5-10 with my sister, then claimed entire series after her friend’s dog ate book 3 and have no intention of relinquishing it. Happy to lend it to her though.
Discovery: Would never have picked up these books if my sister hadn’t bought them and read them aloud. Adore them without shame.
Current Rank: 1-6=Books I love; 7-10=Books I really enjoy
Number of Reads: Depends on the book, but ranges from 2-18 or so.

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles
(Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, Talking to Dragons)
By Patricia C. Wrede
——
Cimorene is everything a princess is not supposed to be: headstrong, tomboyish, smart. . . .
And bored. So bored that she runs away to live with a dragon . . . and finds the family and excitement she's been looking for.
——
The Rundown:  I am not now, nor have I ever been, a fan of princesses. Especially the Disney variety. Cimorene is no Disney princess. She’s not the type to wait around for someone to rescue her from a boring life where everyone underestimates her and refuses to let her be useful despite her eclectic array of talents, just because she happens to be a girl. She does everything princesses aren’t supposed to do, and is aided and abetted by her best friends, Kazul (a dragon) and Morwen (a snarky witch who also bucks tradition and keeps far too many cats), the equally unconventional King Mendanbar, and the brilliant but socially inept wizard, Telemain. All four books are fast, fun reads that never fail to make me smile.

Specs
Type: YA Fantasy, Humor/Satire
Acquisition: Personal purchase from Borders
Discovery: Happened upon them while browsing.
Current Rank: Books I love
Number of Reads: 8

No comments:

Post a Comment